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On the importance of rest and recuperation (R&R) over the holidays

I won’t tell anyone what to do, but as I close out a terrible year, health-wise, I want to share a reflection regarding MY OWN EXPERIENCE with overwork. I think everyone can do whatever they prefer, I’m just using my experience to reflect on the profound inequalities and inequities of the higher education system and academia in general as it stands now (much as it has improved over the last few years).

Hotel San Trópico (Marina Vallarta, Puerto Vallarta, México)

Photo of me on holidays in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, a couple of Decembers ago

My reflective Twitter thread started like this:

I have A LOT of experience with overwork. I was brought up as an overachiever. My life as a child was pretty regimented and (because 2 of my grandparents were in the military), quasi-militarized. I do not regret my upbringing and I’m grateful to my parents that they did this. I grew up expecting to balance and juggle a full-time school load, piano lessons, swimming lessons, and volunteering teaching adults how to read and write in gang-riddled neighbourhoods. I switched piano for theatre and competitive dancing (note I didn’t just dance, I COMPETED).

I switched from swimming and basketball to volleyball. I THRIVED while playing volleyball, and trained 4 hours every single day. I reached juniors national-level competitive team-status and travelled the country and abroad to play tournaments. All of this, while balancing school.

To me, my friends and my social life were irreplaceable, so I balanced competitive volleyball, competitive dancing, volunteering, a full-time school load (chemical engineering, which isn’t an “easy’ undergraduate degree) with having a social life, friends and a close-knit family. I have plenty of experience with big workloads and the challenges of juggling activities trying to keep a semblance of balance. I had tough and rigorous professors, and I do not regret having faced these challenges at all whatsoever.


When I entered grad school, more specifically my PhD, I felt that trying to manage the workload was like drinking water through a straw that was coming from a firehose. I am 5’11 and often felt that my workload was like 7 feet tall.

I frequently felt like I was drowning. LITERALLY

Note, I DO have special skillS. I speed-read, I touch-type over 100 words per minute, and I have quasi-eidetic memory. To me, preparing for comprehensive exams was a total breeze, and when I defended my doctoral dissertation, I basically hit the ball out of the park.

Dr. Raul Pacheco-Vega at CIGA-UNAM (Morelia)

Me giving a talk at UNAM in 2014. This is one of the things I love doing the most.

But even with those skills, I STRUGGLED. When I transitioned to being a professor, I reflected on the fact that even with my skills and extended experience being a systematic planner, I WAS STRUGGLING, I thought to myself: “what happens with everyone else who doesn’t have the privileges that I do? How much do THEY struggle?”

Being in a highly competitive environment drives up self-imposed excessive workloads. In graduate school I started getting tired regularly (despite playing competitive volleyball on a regular basis too), and this has followed me through my professor career.


I’m ok with being competitive, working hard, but I also like playing hard and more than anything, RESTING HARD. I regularly face this challenge of having a fulfilling academic career all the while trying to achieve some semblance of balance. I’ve written about this since 2013 (you can check my posts below).

2018 brought a really bad chronic pain episode, and 2019 started with a similar case. My first 2019 pain-free-day was February 15th, 2019. Over the second semester of 2019, I developed a terrible case of psoriasis/eczema/dermatitis combined with chronic fatigue/chronic pain. I am grateful that for the most part, I lived in Paris with relatively low-levels of pain, or pain-free (for the last few months of my visiting professorship at Sorbonne Nouvelle’s Institute D’Etudes D’Amerique Latine”). Because at least, I got extended periods of time to THINK.

I know for a fact from my experience this year that chronic pain, chronic fatigue and dermatitis all have impeded my scholarly performance. What I could accomplish with my full capacities, I did from February 15, 2019 to September 15, 2019 (which is when my dishydrotic eczema manifested itself alongside the chronic fatigue).

I understand that many of you may need SOME time to catch up with the accumulated workload you have. I had to do it too. FINE. I still suggest that you ought to take at least a few days off, in the way “off” is important to you (I can’t stop reading scholarly literature, so “time off” = “reading a nerdy book at a leisurely pace”). In closing:

As I was writing my thread I came across an important addendum: I am well aware of the fact that contingent faculty may be forced to overwork precisely because of the very nature of their labour precariousness. This is why academics’ wellness should be also higher education organizations’ responsibility. It’s a structural issue. We can’t let academic institutions off the hook without taking responsibility of the well-being of staff, faculty and students.

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